Holding his handkerchief to his arm in lieu of a bandage, the Brigadier grits his teeth together and makes his way over to the ambulances to get himself checked out. What had felt like a sharp scratch when it had been inflicted now feels distinctly more like deep gash from jagged insectoid jaws, which is precisely what it is. What’s more, his ribs are protesting from being knocked into the wall by something human-sized housed in the equivalent of tank-armour. That one had hurt somewhat at the time, but nowhere near as much as it does now.
Reluctantly, he admits to himself that it hadn’t been such a good idea to wait until the fighting was over before getting himself seen to. The aliens which attack aren’t getting any kinder, and he’s not getting any younger. The paramedic who sees him seems to agree, which means that he has to leave Yates in charge of the the clean-up while he goes back to base.
It’s not that Yates isn’t capable, but it serves as an unpleasant reminder that due to his own actions, the Brigadier isn’t at the moment. That, combined with the less than pleasant ride back, leaves him feeling distinctly out of sorts by the time he arrives at the sickbay.
There they shoot him full of antibiotics, force painkillers down him that he protests he doesn’t need, up until the point they pour antiseptic over his arm before stitching him up. When they poke and prod at his ribs, which apparently are only slightly bruised, he draws in a hiss of a breath and wishes they’d given him something stronger.
Eventually they’re done, and the doctor informs him, “You’re all clear to go home.”
Tugging his vest carefully back down, the Brigadier does his best not to sound too curt as he replies, “Thank you.” It’s not the doctor’s fault that he’s in this state, after all.
“Shall I get Sergeant Benton to drive you back?” the doctor asks as he puts his pen back in his pocket.
Looking sharply at him, the Brigadier wonders whether the medical staff are particularly observant, or whether he and Benton simply aren’t as discreet as they thought they were. The doctor’s politely enquiring look gives nothing away though, and the Brigadier decides that the issue can wait until later.
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
He waits until the doctor has left before reaching out gingerly for his shirt, and starting the slow business of getting it back on while there's no-one around to see how much of a struggle it is. Thankfully he manages to get it buttoned up before Benton arrives, although his jacket is another matter entirely. Benton turns up as he's attempting to pull the heavier material over his bandage, wincing when it catches and the movement pulls uncomfortably at his stitches.
“Careful, sir,” Benton cautions, and comes over to help, which doesn't chafe as much as it would if it were to come from someone else. With the minimum of fuss, he has the jacket where it needs to be in moments, only when he's done pressing a gentle hand to the Brigadier's shoulder in the guise of smoothing out a wrinkle. If he's concerned, he’s not letting on to anyone who might be nearby, a quiet show of confidence that does more for the Brigadier's peace of mind than anything else.
Standing back, Benton asks, “Have you got everything you need?”
“The doctor said something about stronger painkillers, for overnight,” the Brigadier admits reluctantly. He wouldn’t mention it, but he thinks he might actually need them.
Before he can stand, Benton tells him, “I’ll get them.” Gratefully, the Brigadier nods, and takes a few more moments to just sit while Benton sorts things out with his usual calm competence. When he comes back, he refrains from offering the Brigadier a hand up, and then they can finally leave, albeit at a slightly slower pace than usual.
-- -- -- -- -- --
They’re both quiet in the car on the way back, waiting until they’re inside the front door before they abandon the formalities of work. The Brigadier lets out a sigh that turns into a cut-off groan at the protest from rapidly stiffening muscles, and Benton reaches out to hover a hand near his elbow, looking as if he wants to touch him but isn’t sure where is safe to do so.
“I’m alright,” the Brigadier assures him. “The arm and the ribs are the worst of it.”
Stepping closer, Benton curves his fingers gently beneath his elbows, and says with a half-smile, “What about the rest of you?”
The Brigadier lets his hands rest on Benton’s arms. “A little sore.” Here, in the house that’s been theirs for more years than will ever go on record, it’s an admission he doesn’t mind making.
“I’m not surprised,” Benton replies. “You’ve had a pretty rough day.” Stated as the fact that it is, the Brigadier feels a little less guilty about feeling so rotten. “How do you feel about the subject of baths?”
“At this precise moment? Highly in favour of.”
“Well then, I’ll go and get it running, as long as you can manage the -”
“Benton, if anything containing the words ‘stairs’ and ‘help’ comes out of your mouth, I’ll...” The Brigadier trails off, tired brain refusing to come up with anything suitable, and settles for glaring at Benton instead.
“Point taken,” Benton says with a smile, and takes the stairs two at a time, reaching the top before the Brigadier has even thought about starting up them.
In the end, he gets up the stairs without a problem once he’s convinced his weary legs to get going. It’s the getting undressed part that he struggles with. He has to sit on the edge of the bed just to get his shoes off, which takes long enough that he’s only just finished when Benton comes in to tell him the bath is ready. When he sees that the Brigadier is still mostly dressed, he comes over without a word and sets about undoing the buttons that the Brigadier could manage if he had to, but is glad he doesn’t need to.
“Be gentle with me, Benton,” he says, a weary attempt at humour as Benton pulls his shirt over his shoulders and down his arms with movements that are careful not to catch or pull on anything that might ache.
“Aren’t I always?” Benton replies with a wink, and the Brigadier chuckles. “That’s better,” Benton says in satisfaction.
The Brigadier waits until Benton has thrown the shirt into the laundry basket, and then reaches out for Benton’s hand. Apologetically, he says, “I’m terribly grumpy at the moment, aren’t I?”
“You are,” Benton agrees, and closes his fingers around the Brigadier’s. “Under the circumstances though, I think you’re allowed to be.” He presses a kiss to the Brigadier’s forehead, and then asks, “Now then, shall I get your trousers off you as well, or can you manage those yourself?”
“You can help me get them off under one condition.”
With a wry smile, the Brigadier replies, “That you help me with the bath afterwards; I think I might fall asleep otherwise, and I don’t much fancy a trip back to the hospital because I got this damn bandage wet.”
With a squeeze of his hand, Benton agrees, “Done.”
In the bathroom, Benton rolls up his sleeves while the Brigadier sinks down into the warm water, closing his eyes as the heat seeps in to soothe away some of the lingering aches and pains. After letting him soak for a while, Benton finds the flannel and soap, carefully but thoroughly washing away the dirt and blood that had refused to give way during the perfunctory clean-up in the sickbay.
By the time he’s done, the Brigadier feels almost human again. Not quite at the point of falling asleep, he’s nonetheless more than content to just sit there, leaning his head against Benton’s shoulder while Benton rubs a wet hand slowly up and down his back.
“You’ll end up all wrinkly if you stay in there much longer,” Benton says after a few minutes where the only sounds are their quiet breaths and the occasional splash of water against the side of the tub.
“On the list of dire consequences that would force me out of this bath, that one is fairly low down on the list.”
Benton laughs quietly, careful not to jostle the Brigadier too much as he does so. “How about if I remind you that there’s a lovely comfortable sofa downstairs, with far more cushions on it than one person needs, and leftover steak and onion pie in the fridge that I can’t reheat while I’m here?”
The Brigadier’s stomach rumbles. “Now that’s a far more convincing argument,” he says, opening his eyes and lifting his head. “Towel, Benton, if you please.”
-- -- -- -- --
After dinner, they sit on the sofa to watch telly, Benton now in jeans and a t-shirt and the Brigadier in the old trousers and jumper that he usually reserves for the weekends. They have to take the opposite seats to their usual ones, the Brigadier to Benton’s right instead of his left so that his arm doesn’t get knocked as they sit together. It’s a silly thing, but even with all the cushions and Benton being as accommodating as he can be, the Brigadier still can’t get comfortable.
The feeling of something being just a little bit off, combined with the aches that are creeping back with intent to settle now, brings back the grumpiness that had just started to fade. With it come the doubts that have been starting to bother him of late, and he’s not entirely joking when he grumbles, “This is what happens when old men try to do the things they should leave for the younger ones.”
Nudging their shoulders together, Benton corrects, “This is what happens when Brigadiers get unlucky while they’re doing their job, which happens to be saving the world. Believe me, the rest of us are lucky to have you around for that.”
The Brigadier moves away a little so that he can get a better look at Benton, who doesn’t appear to be taking the mick. After a moment, he asks, “You don’t think I should confine myself to a desk then? Save myself the pain and indignity of getting battered about when I could do just as good a job directing from HQ?”
“I think you should know better than to make decisions when you’re tired and fed up,” Benton tells him, sensible and down-to-earth as ever. “We’re both a good few years older than we were when we started this job; we’ll have to give it up at some point, but that doesn’t have to be any time soon unless we want it to be.”
“Always the voice of reason,” the Brigadier murmurs, and leans carefully over to kiss Benton in thanks, brief by necessity rather than choice. He has to brace himself with a hand on Benton’s thigh, and it takes Benton’s hand against his shoulder to push him upright again.
Apparently missing neither the effort nor the discomfort that accompany the movements, Benton adds, “And I think you need some more painkillers, followed by bed.”
Looking at the clock, which can’t be right because it says it’s only a quarter past eight, the Brigadier smothers a yawn. On the one hand, more painkillers sound like an excellent idea, but on the other hand he’s not quite ready to give up Benton’s company yet. After the day he’s had, he doesn’t feel much like lying in bed by himself, no matter how tired he is.
Apparently that’s not the plan though, because when Benton comes back from the kitchen, he starts locking up while the Brigadier swallows the decent painkillers. With an arm slipped around the Brigadier’s waist, both affectionate and supportive, Benton heads upstairs and into the bedroom with him. There he gets both of them into their pyjamas and under the covers, where the Brigadier settles down into the mattress with a sigh.
“Alright?” Benton asks, propping himself up on one elbow to the Brigadier’s side, reaching out with his free hand to slip their fingers loosely together.
“Mmmm,” the Brigadier says, turning his head on the pillow to look at Benton. “Getting there.” He can feel the fuzziness of the drugs starting to take effect, and doesn’t think he’s going to be awake very longer. “Come here,” he says, drawing their joined hands to his chest.
“You’re supposed to be sleeping,” Benton says with a laugh, but moves closer anyway, obligingly lowering his head so that the Brigadier can kiss him again, properly and slowly and gently this time. Benton slips his hand free to spread out over the Brigadier’s chest, warm through the fabric of his pyjamas and reassuring where it rests.
“What would I do without you?” the Brigadier murmurs when the kiss comes to a sleepy end.
Benton’s face is a hazy blur above eyes that don’t want to stay open, much less focus, but his smile is plain to see nonetheless. “Why worry about things that aren’t going to happen?” he says softly in reply. “Go to sleep.”
The Brigadier lets his eyes drift shut, and does as he’s told. Whatever else tomorrow might bring, whatever decisions he has to make, the certainty is that Benton will be there to make them with him. That’s all he needs.